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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake


The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Unabridged, 10 hr. 33 min.
Penguin Audio
Orlagh Cassidy (narrator)
February 9, 2010
★★★½☆☆

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII, Audiobook

Source: Downloaded from my library
“What would happen if a postmistress chose not to deliver the mail?

It is 1940. While the war is raging in Europe, President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts a small town at the end of Cape Cod. She firmly believes her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Faithfully she stamps and sends the letters between people such as the newlyweds Emma and Will Fitch, who has gone to London to help out during the Blitz. But one day she slips a letter into her pocket, and leaves it there.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless radio gal, Frankie Bard is reporting the Blitz from London, her dispatches crinkling across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention. Then in the last desperate days of the summer of 1941, she rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on what is happening to the refugees there.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, and a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin”
.
For me, this book was as much about war coverage of the period as it was about the characters that were living through it. When I think about WWII, I think about it from when the United States officially entered the war, although I know it started well before then. The whole premise of this story takes place before the US entered the war and I learned so much from this book about the American mind set of the time – we were safe, it was over there, it wouldn’t happen to us. Sarah Blake does an incredible job of portraying the people of the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, Massachusetts. I loved hearing their discussions about what was going on “over there”. Frankie Bard is over in the Blitz in London and later in France and Germany reporting back to those here in the US about the conditions in these places. She was the voice that brought this news back to the people and she tried to put emotion into the stories – so that people would actually feel what was happening.

Even though I certainly wasn’t around during WWII, I could connect some of the points of the novel to what has been happening today – we are safe, it is over there, it couldn’t happen to us. It’s amazing how the author can really drag your perceptions of today into the novel and you can connect to it.

Three characters are the central focus of the story – Frankie Bard (the radio reporter), Iris James (the postmistress), and Emma Fitch (the doctor’s wife). These three women are brought together by various events and consequences and really help each other survive. My favorite character by far was Emma Fitch. I think her hopes, fears, and desires were clear to the reader and consistent from start to finish – the most fleshed out character. I really had a hard time with the postmistress – who corrects people over and over that she is indeed a postmaster. I felt that she was a little all over the place. She starts out as this person who has always had all her ducks in a row and takes her job very seriously; when she withholds the letter, and her reasoning behind it, it felt very contrived and not within the character. For a book that is titled The Postmistress, I found Iris to not be the central focus or even the most important character.

Overall, I felt that this book brought home the feeling of ambivalence about the war in the US. The aspects of the book that were tied up the best were those that related to the war and what was happening. Some of the characters needed to be fleshed out a little more to be completely believable and that would have made the story much better.

★★★★★

To comment on the audiobook – I think that this was a great choice to listen to. When so much of the story is made up of Frankie’s radio broadcasts, you really felt like you were listening to it the way it was meant to be. It added a touch of reality and I think it put me into the mindset of the time period easier. See my post later this week for some real radio broadcasts from the war.

Author Sarah Blake also has written Grange House.  You can watch this video to see the author’s insights into the novel. There are some minor teasers/spoilers – so do not watch this if you do not want to know anything.


Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

 

 
 
Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting! I just finished this book...I have to admit that I was a little ambivalent about it/slightly disappointed in it, but I also enjoyed the perspective of pre-war, brushing off "over there" as too far away to worry about.

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  2. Nice review Heather! I just can't do audiobooks, my concentration stinks...but I like how it made it more real for you with the radio broadcasts. What a great added bonus to the listener.

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  3. Rowenna - I was a little disappointed with it too - I think she could have done a lot more with it - and focus it more on the Postmistress.

    Amy - stay tuned tomorrow for some radio broadcasts from the period!

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  4. I collect old books. They give such an insight into the mindset of the time. I have novels written during the time this book takes place. You get the feel of where the country was and how people felt, not just the reflection of looking back at it. The magazines I have from 1916-17 have coverage of WWI and what life was like on the home front. Very interesting because you are looking at it from a contemporary rather than an historical sense.

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